Cities around the country heavily regulate taxis and Birmingham is no different. The ordinance governing taxis, limousines and other "vehicles for hire" stretches 40 pages and covers everything from the types of credit cards taxis are supposed to accept to how frequently seats are wiped down.
But it also says cab drivers aren't allowed to drive around looking for passengers. Also, it's illegal for someone to hail a taxi outside of downtown or Lakeview.
Birmingham City Councilwoman Kim Rafferty, who chairs the transportation committee, says it used to be illegal everywhere in the city to hail a taxi until the city code was changed in 2012 to add those two specific neighborhoods. She says she's working to further update the ordinance.
"There's a lot [in the code] that didn't make any sense," said Rafferty. "It needs to be practical. It needs to be serviceable. And that's what we've been working on."
Rafferty says she was told the restriction on taxis cruising for passengers was put in place because people complained about cabs driving through residential areas. Similarly, taxi drivers didn't want to be forced to pick up a passenger hailing them if they happened to be in an unsafe or questionable part of town.
Rafferty says allowing cruising and hailing is most practical, but must be balanced with safety. She says she expects taxis would gravitate to the city center and entertainment areas anyway so that doesn't need to be spelled out in the ordinance.
The existing rules are confusing, particularly for out-of-town visitors who may expect to be able to flag a cab they see driving by.
"I've seen people trying to hail cabs and I'm sure they're highly confused why they never stop," Rafferty said. She adds the city needs to do a better job marketing this rule because nobody will read the transportation code to figure out if you can hail a taxi.
~ Andrew Yeager, June 11, 2014